CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- A smiling David Tepper jogged down a small makeshift runway at a crowded gymnasium, crouching as he went to slap hands with wildly cheering elementary school children clad in blue Carolina Panthers T-shirts while music blared.
After finishing his short jog, the Panthers owner smiled back at the crowd and seemed to soak in the moment.
Tepper made his first charitable donation to the Carolinas on Tuesday through his foundation, giving away 12,000 new backpacks and school supplies to 17 elementary schools across the Charlotte, North Carolina, area including those students at Thomasboro Academy.
''It's been great,'' said a smiling Tepper of his first seven weeks as owner.
The self-made multi-billionaire hedge fund owner is 60, but still remembers his days growing up in Pittsburgh in a lower-income household. His mother worked as a teacher at an inner city school, and he got to see firsthand how difficult it was for her to provide school supplies for her students.
He also remembers walking to school with a brown bag because he didn't have a backpack. In high school he would sometimes hitch rides to school.
When he purchased the Panthers for an NFL-record $2.2 billion from Jerry Richardson in July, Tepper said he immediately thought of supporting schoolchildren, calling them ''our future.''
''I thought it was a great way to start off,'' said Tepper, who is known for his philanthropy in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
''Every kid needs supplies and there is a shortage of supplies. Teachers don't have enough money for supplies - and you know the situation in North Carolina and in the Carolinas in general with schools. So whatever we can do to help that out, it's great.''
Said Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis: ''He comes in here with that same mindset we have (as players) with giving back to the community.''
Tepper is quickly becoming a popular figure in the Charlotte area.
Unlike Richardson, who is more stoic and formal and kept out of the spotlight, Tepper exudes the feel of an ordinary guy, often dressing in khaki shorts, a golf shirt and a baseball hat.
Prior to the Panthers' first preseason game, he tailgated with fans and knocked back a few beers.
''He's easy to talk to, he's approachable and he likes being around the guys,'' Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said.
When he bought the Panthers, Tepper vowed to change the culture and make it more of a family atmosphere where people are comfortable in the workplace regardless of race, gender or religion.
That came after allegations surfaced of sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace by Richardson while owner of the Panthers. He was later fined $2.7 million by the NFL when reports were substantiated following a six-month investigation. The reports ultimately prompted Richardson, the team's founder, to put the franchise up for sale.
Tepper is already shaking it up, doing things his way.
The Panthers have worn two different uniform combinations in their first two preseason home games and there's talk of possibly incorporating a black helmet into the mix - a look Richardson would never go for.
Tepper is also expected to put the Panthers logo at midfield for the team's first regular-season home game; Richardson always made sure the NFL shield was at midfield for more than two decades to honor the league.
Tepper wants to build an indoor/outdoor practice football facility in South Carolina, just over the border.
The Panthers have never had an indoor practice facility under Richardson.
Tepper hasn't talked much about plans for a new stadium, but it's something he'll have to consider at some point as Bank of America - completed in 1995 - is now one of the older stadiums in the league.
Last week, Tepper hired Tom Glick as the team's new president, saying he will bring a ''new perspective'' to the organization - with an eye toward bringing a Major League Soccer team to the Carolinas.
Glick has spent the past six years working with developing the City Football Group (CFG), a multi-national soccer organization that includes six clubs including current English Premier League champion Manchester City FC. The Group also owns New York City FC of Major League Soccer.
As chief commercial officer of CFG, Glick has experience working with soccer expansion, as well as building new stadiums and training centers.
When asked if that experience helped Glick land the job, Tepper replied, ''it didn't hurt.''
Tepper deflected other questions about business, saying he wanted this day to be about the kids.
''The first thing I did when I came down here is I said we have to do something like this in Charlotte,'' Tepper said. ''We are thinking something across the two states in the future. ... It's great stuff.''
And, he promised, only the beginning of his charitable ways in the Carolinas.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL